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Archive for August 12th, 2011

CCTV imageMy attention spans a couple of topics today I find related, although the tie might be a stretch for some.

Beginning with the recent spate of riots in the UK

There’s been no little finger pointing going on as London burns and sparks spread to other cities. As there seems little at the root of the “unrest” other than greed and boredom being acted out by some with no other agenda apparent, nothing less than a breakdown of society is cited as a major factor.

As my Yorkshire friend A.j. put it:

A few highly educated idiots got together and rewrote the book on parenting…and now we are reaping the results, nobody dared burn down the village before… This is the first of many. Kids have always pushed the boundaries to see what they can get away with, well now they know…

This was in response to an African proverb posted on Facebook that addressed the situation from an interesting angle:

If the young men are not initiated into the community, they will burn down the village – just to feel its warmth.

While some may consider the masked youths overusing their Zippos and grabbing everything they can marginalized, disenfranchised, others would argue the reverse; that they have been MAXinalized and franchised to within an inch of their lives, spoiled and pampered, steeped in excess with no requirement to contribute.

In trying to look from both sides, I have to admit to a problem with the first take. Of course there are issues of poverty, racial tensions, employment problems, the unequal distribution of wealth and goodies. Yep. Life is much harder for some than for others.

In a country where education and health care are free and food, clothing and shelter are provided with very little work required, endless bitching about how tough things are is disingenuous at best, and those who feel marginalized … and react violently to their plight … because they don’t have the very latest version of BlackBerry should be slapped.

The should-be-slapped contingent is well represented at the moment, as evidenced by the these charmers arrested in Manchester …

An 11-year-old girl, a woman with 96 previous convictions and the daughter of a successful businessman were among hundreds of defendants appearing before magistrates on Thursday in the wake of the recent riots and looting.

Add the ” … university graduate who had been pursuing a career in social work …” who boosted a TV, a ” … a 21-year-old law student … ” who trashed a restaurant …” and this brat …

On Wednesday undergraduate Laura Johnson, 19, was granted bail by magistrates in Bexley, south-east London, on five counts of burglary in connection with the theft of goods from stores in south London.

The former grammar school pupil achieved four A*s and nine As at GCSE and is the daughter of a successful businessman who owns a large detached farmhouse in Orpington, south-east London, according to reports.

and the idea presents that an opportunistic lack of sense and morals pops up pretty easily in the don’t give a shit minds of far too many.

But, then again, why wouldn’t it?

Giving a shit is something that must be learned, and to be learned it must be taught. If the reason for education is getting a high-paying job so one can buy all the goodies one could wish for, what’s to stop a university grad from the snatch and run? If the lack of such goodies is considered a personal failure, how can it matter where the plasma screen, the iPad or the BlueRay player came from? If one’s position in a community is determined by the amount of cool stuff one collects and respect is conveyed by accumulated property, what possible difference can it make if the wardrobe and gadgets were filched?

No more, of course, than it matters if a media tycoon lies and cheats or a powerful leader violates the human rights of his people.

In a ME, ME, ME world there’s no need for thoughts for the good of US, of the society, the community, but it’s not sustainable, not on this planet. It’s too small and there’s too many MEs, and, as we’ve seen, when that ME wants what another ME has things can get ugly.

The need for community is real, and it is strong. We’re not a solitary-living species, but programed through our DNA to live in societies. It seems, however, that we’re losing the knowledge of how to do that well, and it may be worth the time to rethink some of the methods of bonding as a community we’ve lost.

The initiation idea appeals, but does not mean some sort of group hug.

Initiation is a rite of passage ceremony marking entrance or acceptance into a group or society. It could also be a formal admission to adulthood in a community or one of its formal components.

A rite of passage … hm.

No mutilation, please, but humanity would not suffer from a training and testing ground between childhood and assuming the rights of an adult.

As Mircea Eliade put it when listing reasons and functions of initiation, they are …

“this real valuation of ritual death finally led to conquest of the fear of real death.”

“[initiation’s] function is to reveal the deep meaning of existence to the new generations and to help them assume the responsibility of being truly men and hence of participating in culture.”

“it reveals a world open to the trans-human, a world that, in our philosophical terminology, we should call transcendental.”

“to make [the initiand] open to spiritual values.”

In other words, it teaches the rules, the reasons for rules, and makes sure those who go through the process understand. If they don’t, they don’t get to play.

In most non-human primate societies, sub-adults … teenagers … are the most repressed, ignored and controlled group. Males that haven’t shown their worth don’t get sex and have the crap beaten out of them when they get out of line. If they’re mean to the little ones … which they rarely are knowing the consequences as they do … they’re in big trouble. Their mothers brook no shit, their fathers keep them in line and they learn to find their own food, make their own nests, form alliances, share, and generally prepare to be contributing members of their group.

They may be as big and strong as adults, but they’re not as smart, and until they learn what must be learned they are cut no slack at all.

Sounds sensible.

Which brings me to my second thought of the day … a meeting of the Committee on the Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research happening now in D.C..

Spurned by a Congressional request last year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) asked the IOM to form a committee that would evaluate the current and future need for federally funded research on chimpanzees – increasingly controversial in the public eye and legal in only one other country, Gabon. The committee held an introductory meeting in May, but got to the heart of the issues today, the first of the two-day meeting.

I have no doubt there will come a time when using chimps in research will be considered as much an abomination as the “studies” conducted on concentration camp inmates by the Nazis, and have hopes meetings like this will move that scenario forward.

“We wouldn’t be having this meeting if ethics wasn’t an issue,” said primate researcher Frans de Waal of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who detailed his behavioral research. Goodall enthusiastically described her field research and its benefits for the health of wild chimpanzees. But she does not support the use of chimpanzees held in labs, which she says are like prisons to them.

Like us, chimps have social living programed into their DNA. Like us, they’re meant to live in communities. Unlike us, they don’t run the show. Unlike us, their kids don’t foul the nest.

It will serve us well to remember that our community is our planet, that we share it with many others … and that everything isn’t about ME, ME, ME. We knew this once, but seem to have lost the wisdom somewhere between being part of something bigger and thinking life isn’t worth living without that new BlackBerry.

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